The Real Thieves (Screed #11)

June 22, 2009…


We’ve been reading in the news lately about a couple of people that have been singled out by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for illegally downloading and/or hosting music files over the internet, and absolutely appalled and outraged over the fines that they have been charged. One woman was caught with 24 songs on her computer and was fined almost $2,000,000. That boils down to $80,000 per song! Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime! How, in their unbridled greed, can the record industry justify penalizing someone that much money over one song? Most music websites, such as iTunes or Napster, charge 99 cents per song, yet the penalty is going to be about a million times that amount? The fact that these cases haven’t been laughed out of court just goes to show you what real injustice is all about in this country, and who the real thieves are. Just another example of the giant crushing the little person.

We realize that downloading music, without paying for it, is illegal – but this is beyond all comprehension and reason. It’s like penalizing someone for stealing a 5 cent candy by throwing them in jail for 20 years. It’s complete overkill, not to mention diabolically cruel. And what kind of message does this send anyhow? The people who have gotten caught can’t possibly ever pay the fines, so the next person will think, “if I get caught, I’ll have to pay over a million dollars in fines myself, which I can’t possibly come up with, so I might as well keep illegally downloading – what’s the difference if I owe $1,000,000 or $2,000,000? – and perhaps I’ll get lucky and never get caught.”

The recording association has mailed more than 30,000 letters to individuals and families in recent years, demanding payment for illegal file sharing. Most recipients have settled out of court for $3,000 to $5,000 – which we also feel is a ridiculous amount, considering that each song is apparently not worth more than 99 cents apiece.

There are millions and millions of people, of all ages, throughout the world, who are illegally downloading music every day of the week. Now, we realize that just because that many people are doing it, that doesn’t make it right – but it seems like you should either go after every last person who is committing this “heinous” crime, or not go after any of them. Singling out a few random people seems extremely cruel and unfair.   

Plus, the record industry, in their brilliant wisdom, figures that this will deter future illegal downloading, but we all know the threat of jail time or even the death penalty does not stop people from committing all sorts of crimes, including murder – what makes the record industry think this will be any different? And with all the problems we have in this country, is this really that much of a concern? Considering that these people will probably never be able to come up with the money to pay off these fines anyhow, and the RIAA will probably never see more than a small fraction of the money, isn’t this just a complete waste of taxpayers’ time and money by bringing these frivolous cases to court? Makes us wonder if it’s really the money they want, or if it’s just a message they are trying to send out by using scare tactics.   

Perhaps if the record industry hadn’t been so shortsighted concerning the whole digital/downloading industry, and hadn’t tried to fight it all these years, they wouldn’t be in the dire situation they are in now. Plus, also, if they hadn’t been charging people up to $15 or more for a CD, when we all know they cost less than a dollar to produce, people wouldn’t feel such a need to steal music – especially in the bad economy we live in, where only people with disposable income can even afford to buy CDs anymore.

If the recoding industry wants to stop illegal downloading so badly, then why don’t they try to stop the internet itself? – which, of course, is impossible. They want to use a public resource for private profit. By utilizing the internet they are subject to the same pitfalls that the public is when it posts photographs or film on the internet. There is really only so much you can do to control what goes on over the internet. And the web is here to stay, so they need to come to terms with that fact once and for all.

Keep in mind that many people only download the music for free because they want to see if they like it enough first before they go buy the actual CD or pay money to download the song. If they can’t hear the music prior to purchasing it, they probably won’t buy it anyhow, which means the record industry would not end up making money from that person, with that particular album.

This reminds us of the mid-1980s when the RIAA went on a ridiculous crusade by trying to have blank cassettes banned, stating “home taping is killing music.” It did no such thing. Blank cassettes lived on (at least for awhile) and the record industry continued to make billions of dollars in profits despite it all.  

Nowadays, the record industry wants to make CDs (as well as DVDs) impossible to burn. It’s ridiculous and counter-productive. They are dictating to you, as the consumer, what you can do or not do with something that you paid hard earned money on. At every chance they get, the RIAA have fought the Fair Use Act, which allows you to make a backup copy for personal use. They argued that if your record, tape or CD breaks or malfunctions that you should not be able to make a backup copy to continue enjoying what you paid for. They argued in court and before legislature that you should have to buy a brand new copy of the album. And they have the money and the power to get away with this kind of insanity. 

Also, as Bob Dylan has said in recent years, concerning the poor sound quality of modern albums, as well as the lack of artistic quality, the reason why people don’t pay for music anymore is because it’s not worth anything anyhow. Look at the garbage the record industry turns out year after year. People are no longer buying albums because they know that there is only going to be one or two good songs on it, and the sound quality is going to be terrible.     

We all know that the recording industry is on its last legs. Many major artists are breaking away from the whole record company contract structure and releasing music through their own channels (like Radiohead and Prince). It will continue this way even more in the years to come. The RIAA is losing billions of dollars every year and they need to recoup some of that money any way they can – even if it means singling out a few poor people and ruining their lives by making shining examples of them. You can say these people deserve it because they did something they knew was wrong – but is charging them an insane amount of money and publically humiliating them really the answer?

Some folks will also claim that by illegally downloading music you are taking money out of the artist’s pocket – but how much of the money that the RIAA is fining people, like this woman, is going to end up in the artist’s pocket anyhow? We would guess very little. The RIAA is notorious for ripping off artists throughout the decades. They have stolen far more money out of artists’ pockets than illegal downloading ever has. Look at all the money record companies have made by exploiting deceased artists like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison over the years. Talk about thievery and hypocrisy!

We read that one Harvard-based lawyer out of Massachusetts, by the name of Charles Nesson, decided to step in and defend a Boston University grad student (who decided to fight back against the RIAA) by taking on the industry, on his behalf, free of charge. We applaud his actions. More lawyers should be stepping forward.

Let’s face it, illegal downloading, whether right or wrong, is here to stay – the same way that bootlegs have continued to survive over the past forty years, despite all the efforts to stop them. The RIAA needs to accept that fact and find new ways to survive, as well as prosper. Destroying peoples’ lives is not the way to go about it though. It’s just another example of pure, unbridled greed. This is also very bad for public relations on their part and will eventually come back on them.

If the record industry does in fact completely collapse someday, they have nobody to blame but themselves.


1 Comment

  1. joseph devassy said,

    June 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    The Federation is right on with their lucid commentary. The record industry is absolutely re-arranging the deck chairs on their own self-made Titanic. We are seeing the labored, desperate, and mean spirited gestures of a dying industry, gasping on its last constricted financial breaths. This economy has spelled the death of so many once viable businesses…the battered and tattered record industry doesn’t stand a chance.

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